Ideally, therapy will involve a component of providing clients with new tactics for addressing everyday difficulties. For example, one way to get clients to develop skills in the area of anxiety management is to walk them through a relaxation exercise, maybe even aiding them in creating or recording one that works well for them. While doing my practicum, my supervisor had me create a stress-reduction ‘scenario’ of my own and present it to a very high-anxiety client.
Now, while the relaxation exercise I actually used in session had to do with the client feeling warmth spread through his body, thawing ice/tension in his veins, it actually came to me first as a relaxation exercise that I didn’t dare do. For the original relaxation exercise involved a certain space pirate emerging from a block of carbonite, inside a desert palace (carefully avoiding overly-specific references that might result in cease-and-desist letters from the lawyers of a certain film director who is still apparently cheesed off about those pirated copies of a certain 1978 ‘Life Day’ Holiday Special that frequently pop up on eBay). And, hey, for any of you overly-ambitious types who want to turn this into a full-blown relaxation video production suitable for YouTube, I’ve been told I have a voice that’s made for radio…or was that a face for radio? Both?
Anyway, it goes a little bit like this…
Close your eyes.
(We start with deep breathing, so sit comfortably in an upright position feet flat on the floor, arms resting on your lap or the arms of the chair. Now breathe in slowly through your nose. Take in a deep breath, all the way into the trunk of your body. You want your trunk to expand. You want to breathe from your diaphragm. You want to do some belly breathing. When your diaphragm has expanded with the air to its maximum stretching point, pause for a few seconds, then breathe out through your mouth, slowly and deliberately. Try to make the count of your breath out match the count of your breath in. Do a slow count as you take in air through your nose, expanding your belly…four, five, six, seven. Your breathing is at capacity. Pause, two, three four. Now breathe out…four, five, six, seven. Continue your breathing in this fashion, aware of the feeling of calm it brings.)
Everything is darkness, and silence, and immobility. In fact, you cannot remember the last time you saw daylight, the last time you heard anything other than the faintest, muffled sounds. You cannot remember the last time you were able to move, to stretch. You realize that this lifelessness, along with the negative feelings it brings, the fear and anxiety, are all the result of your inability to move, to experience the world around you. But you still feel your calm, measured breathing. You still feel a sense of hope…a new hope?
You have a vague sensation that you are in an awkward, standing position, as with your hands up in front of your chest. But you cannot move. Still, this realization of frozenness brings awareness, and this awareness brings with it the possibility of movement.
You have the briefest sensation that you are falling, and feel a slight, jarring in the solid material around you. And then all is silence and darkness again, but you feel a change.
As you continue your deliberate, measured breathing, a slow warmth starts to expand near your forehead. The warmth spreads slowly down your face. You feel as though your head is no longer pinned in one place, that you can move it ever-so-slightly. You feel the stiffness begin to fade from your head and neck. Along with the warmth, you begin to take in other sensations. Your eyes are registering light, even if only a little. There is a reddish light to the transformation that is freeing you. The confined space begins to give way to open air.
Another wave of warmth begins in your fingertips and spreads over your hands, up your arms, to your elbows, your biceps. The warmth moving down from your forehead meets the warmth climbing up your arms at your shoulders. You feel the tension melting out of your facial muscles, out of your neck, out of your shoulders, arms, and hands.
The warmth spreads down your chest and your breathing becomes easier, deeper. The warmth envelops your torso, trunk, your hips, your buttocks, your groin, your thighs.
Your senses are still overwhelmed by the chemical changes, and mechanical whirring around you. But soon, smells other than the faint chemical burning start to reach your nose, smells of desert air, of stale but fragrant smoke, exotic fruits, odd beasts.
As the warmth reaches down past your knees, releasing the tension in your calves, your ankles, your feet, you feel a sense of being freed. And you recognize in amongst the smells reaching you, something familiar, intimately familiar. As the tension, and the binding solidness melts away, you feel no fear, even as you realize you begin to fall. For that familiar smell that reaches you is the smell of security, the smell of one who will not let you fall, of one who will catch you, the smell, the words, the touch all grip you at the same time…the smell, and clutch, and declaration of “someone who loves you.”